In the previous two wins for Marquette in the NCAA tournament, Vander Blue was there for them in the close finishes. This time, dominating right from the get go, their star player gave his best efforts early on, to create enough separation from Miami, while teammate Jamil Wilson took over in the second half to make sure they make it into the Elite Eight.
It’s the small Wisconsin school’s first Elite Eight since the days of Dwyane Wade in 2003, when they were still a Conference-USA team. Marquette will be part of the new Big East next season, which will be the Catholic 7 plus a few more schools added from here and there. Their 71-61 win over MIami is their first in this stage (after a few painfully annoying losses) since 2003.
What made the difference between them and the proud ACC champions? Marquette simply didn’t miss, while the Hurricanes couldn’t get their three-point shooting game, always a major factor for any team trying to make a run in the tournament, going all night. They remembered playing defense only in the second half, but scoring only 16 points through the first 20 minutes was too much to overcome against an Eagles team that for the first time in a while managed to play their style of basketball from the first minute on the floor.
Miami hit only 1 of 12 from three (8.3%) during the first half, finishing with 8-26 (30.8%). Shane Larkin found it hard to find those open spaces he loves to sift through, and was kind of quiet, taking only 8 field goal attempts in 39 minutes, leading his team with 14 points. Vander Blue scored 14 for Marquette, scoring six of those points during a 10-1 run that gave Marquette that early lead they never relinquished. Jamil Wilson, coming off the bench, led the team with 16 points, as Marquette stuck to good shots and long possession, hitting 54% of their field goal attempts.
It was about countering the Miami defense – Miami used its full-court press for the first time with 14:26 remaining in the second half, causing a turnover. But Marquette did very well the rest of the game against that famous press, scoring 14 of their 20 transition points on possessions that began with Miami’s full-court press. It’s now a Big East quarterfinal for the right to play in the Final Four, as Miami showed that what worked so well in the regular season doesn’t always carry over against teams that have enough weapons to counter it.